Within the first hours and days of a natural disaster, first responders take on the heroic task of rescuing people, saving lives, and administering emergency services. While we may also respond directly in the early stages by donating antibiotics, it is our overarching
We work with our local leaders to assess the situation and decide how best we could contribute to longer-term rebuilding efforts. We partner with accredited, experienced partners, who are as committed as we are to innovation, collaboration, quality and sustainability.
One of the world’s most natural disaster-prone areas, Indonesia has been subject to major earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides and volcanoes in recent years. In 2018, a large earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.5, struck just outside of the provincial capital Palu, leading to a tsunami and 4,000 people losing their lives.
“I was in my office, in a high-rise in Jakarta, and I remember I felt a trembling fear when the walls around me started swaying back and forth,” said Ait-Allah Mejri, General Manager of Roche Indonesia. “In Palu, the quake had triggered a submarine landslide which caused the tsunami. It’s very rare and it was devastating.”
His team worked with the local authorities to assess how Roche could help the people of Palu rebuild a stronger community for the future. With many of the region’s healthcare facilities in extreme disrepair, they agreed to work with the local and central government to rebuild three healthcare centres, renewing the buildings, bringing in new medical equipment and furniture. The work was completed and the centres were handed over to the local authorities in December 2019. Today, they serve over 1,200 people.
For Ait-Allah, who has worked at Roche for 27 years, this response is an integral part of how we contribute to sustainable development and sustainable population health. “We are focused on improving patients' lives in a way that fits each country’s unique ecosystem. If this isn’t living up to our purpose—doing now what patients need next—I don’t know what is.”
Based in Nairobi, Jacqueline Wambua, Head of Roche Government Affairs in East Africa, works with governments, NGOs and other institutions to help strengthen local healthcare systems. When she learned about severe flooding in Coastal Kenya, along the Tana River, in 2018, Jacqueline said that she hoped there was something Roche could do to help.
“It’s a very rural setting,” she said. “People were not at all equipped to deal with this kind of natural disaster.” The floods took hundreds of lives, displaced over 200,000 people, destroyed infrastructure and healthcare centres.
In the aftermath, Roche teamed up with one of its long-standing philanthropic partners, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), to help the community to become better prepared to face floods in the future. In meetings with local leaders and the Kenya Red Cross, all partners agreed that secure buildings were needed to provide shelter and communications during flooding. They built two Community Disaster Rescue and Preparedness Centres and provided preparedness training in the community.
For the WWF, which focuses on wildlife conservation and endangered species, this project, almost entirely humanitarian in scope, pushed the bounds of their usual scope of work. “Where we are focused on the environment and Roche on health, this kind of project sits at the intersection of both of our business models,” explained Shalini Mehan, Relationship Manager, Philanthropy, WWF International.
“We may have come to this from the perspective of management of the environment, but no life is left untouched in the wake of natural disasters, or other environmental impacts. This is why WWF focuses on working with communities. This is part of our collective work and why it’s so important that we have partnerships,” Shalini said.
For Jacqueline, while this project was also quite unique in her work, it demonstrates Roche’s commitment to the community. “We are all about working with stakeholders to strengthen healthcare systems. This certainly goes way beyond, but it shows how we are dealing with issues on the ground and serving our communities.”
Our goals follow core principles of working with accredited local partners, providing stronger infrastructure, upskilling local workers, and helping people to be better prepared for future natural disasters. The key performance indicators (KPIs) behind each goal are specific to the exact nature and scope of every project.
For example, following the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, we partnered with Habitat for Humanity to support vulnerable families who were in need of proper housing. In our first project, we supported the reconstruction of 578 disaster-resistant houses, trained community members and established a housing support service centre. A second phase was launched in 2019 and provided direct support for the rebuilding of 195 houses, technical assistance to 2,170 households, counseling on reconstruction policies to 2,598 families, plus, additional on-the-job training to local community members.
Just two years later, the country faced another natural disaster—devastating floods which again displaced many families. We agreed to increase our support to Habitat for Humanity in Nepal so they could build another 100 houses in safer areas as well as provide more training on disaster resiliency. In the end, Habitat was able to leverage government subsidies and will be able to build even more houses.
Sometimes the reality on the ground requires some flexibility in terms of the specific outcomes. For both projects, timelines needed to be extended and some additional structures, like floodwalls, needed building to better protect the new houses from potential future floods and landslides.
“In Europe or in the US, we often take communal infrastructure, like roads, walls, and bridges for granted,” explains Tomas Kelley, Associate Director of Partnerships, Habitat for Humanity International. “But in Nepal, the financing is not necessarily there, so we are constantly working with the local community through a participatory approach to ensure we can shift our resources to rebuild what is actually needed so communities are better prepared to face natural disasters in the future.”
We also supported the WWF’s efforts to help Nepal recover and rebuild following the natural disasters. Following the 2015 earthquake, we provided the WWF with a donation to construct a multi-purpose community centre in the severely affected Langtang National Park. This project, which was completed in 2017, also helped to support the WWF identify disaster prone areas, disseminate information, and increase alternative livelihoods for the local community. Following the 2017 floods, we provided the WWF with another donation to build two community rescue centers and provide disaster preparedness equipment, communications and training in Southern Nepal.
In addition, through our secondment programme, Ingrid Kronimus-Wecke, a veteran Roche medical professional, volunteered from February - May 2019 in Nepal to help set-up Roche donated medical equipment and establish workflow processes at the refurbished Ratnanagar Hospital which serves over 145,000 people per year.
While it is our overarching policy to contribute to longer-term rebuilding efforts following a natural disaster, in some cases, we provide support during the emergency response phase. In 2019, cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi as one of the worst tropical storms to affect sub-saharan Africa.
In response, we were able to help via three of our NGO partners. We supported our long-term partner UNICEF to provide each country with 20,000 long-lasting insecticidal nets, a vital and much-needed piece of equipment to prevent the transmission of malaria. Depending on the country context, the nets were used both during the emergency phase and as part of the early recovery response to strengthen the resilience and preparedness of the affected communities.
In addition, Roche Portugal granted funding to the Portuguese branch of the local Red Cross, in support of people affected by the disaster in Mozambique. We also donated 3,000 units of Bactrim, a Roche antibiotic, as part of the emergency disaster relief efforts there.
In partnership with the WWF, we are supporting the construction of two community disaster relief centres in Zimbabwe. The WWF is working with Red Cross Zimbabwe, the local government and other stakeholders on the project. A key objective includes raising awareness about how to increase resilience to future natural disasters, for example through greening and farming methods that minimises soil erosion.
We also provided funding to the NGO ActionAid Malawi through the Roger Federer Foundation (RFF) to help rebuild 13 preschools in Malawi. “The rapid and unbureaucratic aid from Roche was extremely valuable and allowed us to resume the service as quickly as possible. Children should not miss out on their education,” said Janine Händel, CEO of RFF.
*Number of patients served since the health centres were rehabilitated and reopened in January 2020
**162 houses to be built by project completion
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